After chewing on the issue for much of the summer and fall, the State Board of Education Thursday issued a letter calling for cutting state standardized testing to federal minimum requirements and for other changes in the assessment system.
The letter was sent to the Standards and Assessments Task Force, a 15-member appointed group that is developing recommendations on testing for the 2015 legislative session.
During meetings stretching back to August, when 2014 TCAP results were released, board members have clearly indicated that they wanted to add their collective voice to the flow of comment being considered by the task force.
The board’s letter adds to the rising drumbeat of discontent about state testing, which has steadily expanded in recent years with the addition of school readiness and early literacy evaluations, new online science and social studies tests and additional high school tests, including the first assessments for seniors.
Things will change even more dramatically next spring when the first online PARCC tests in language arts and math will be given statewide.
The letter, signed by all seven board members, said, “We ask that the task force give consideration to a system of assessments which is reduced to the federal minimums, with the addition of social studies.” It also suggested a testing system that has limited impact on instructional time, considers sampling systems instead of testing every student every years, allows local district choice of tests and exempts students from further testing if they’ve demonstrated mastery of academic content.
“The board is keenly aware of the public’s concerns around the burdens imposed on educators, students, and districts – the impacts on instructional time, questions around transparency, unintended consequences related to course sequencing, and interruption of concurrent enrollment programs. By providing our observations to the 1202 Task Force, we continue that dialogue,” the letter said.
Board chair Paul Lundeen told Chalkbeat Colorado that the letter represents “a gathering of thoughts and ideas that have been talked about for months.” He said the board discussed the letter during its meeting last week and considered talking about it further in December but decided “we needed to get it out immediately so that the task force would have it.”
The task force has only two more scheduled meetings, on Dec. 16 and Jan. 12, before it has to make its report to lawmakers. (The 2014 law that established the group allows the task force to prepare majority and minority reports if it chooses.)
Several task force members are believed to favor cutting the testing system back to federal minimums, although the group hasn’t yet developed detailed drafts of proposals.
Colorado requires more testing, both of additional subjects and in additional grades, than is mandated by the federal NCLB law. Some of those additional tests have been required by the wave of education bills passed by the legislature since 2008.
The issue of federal minimums was discussed at length during the board’s September meeting, when members received an extensive briefing by Department of Education staff. That report indicated cutting back could have unintended consequences, particularly on the operation of the state’s model for tracking student academic growth over time. (See this story for details.)
Testing, including test results and growth data, are key to the state’s systems for rating schools and districts and for the education evaluation system, which is yet to be rolled out fully.